Fellows Highlight: Katie Booras

Friday, May 6, 2016

Katie Booras is a NE CSC Graduate Fellow who just completed her Master’s with NE CSC's University Director, Richard Palmer in the Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst.  Her work focuses directly on managing water resources for a changing climate.

Water is a vital resource for sustaining life on Earth.  With the climate changing, the occurrence of severe weather events, such as droughts, may become more prevalent in some areas.  While turning the clock back on these shifts in our climate may be a tough feat to accomplish, preparedness for more severe weather events is essential in order for communities to maintain a clean and continuous water supply.  

Katie has always been interested in water supply. “It is one of the most important resources, but something we often take for granted,” she explains.  
As she was pursuing her Master’s, she worked directly with partners in the city of Baltimore to modernize drought management on the east coast, ensuring that management is data-driven.  While droughts are less common on the Northeast Coast, it is imperative to have a cohesive plan in place in the event that one occurs. 
 
The research Katie conducted was directly useful to the city of Baltimore. The residents of Baltimore and the water resources managers are the primary stakeholders in her work.  Baltimore relies on their three water reservoirs and the Susquehanna River Basin to provide reliable, clean drinking water. Katie’s work will ensure reservoirs and river basins are managed using the most current forecasting technologies, guaranteeing a reliable water supply. 

Katie worked directly with Watershed Section Manager, Clark Howells, from the Environmental Services Division of the City of Baltimore Bureau of Water and Wastewater.  Howells is responsible for managing the three reservoirs, which in total hold 84 billion gallons of water and cover 25,000 acres of land. Katie communicated regularly with Howells over the course of her research and system model building. “There are a lot of metrics you can look at, [and] Clark has helped me to hone in on the important ones,” explains Katie.  Her meetings with Clark Howells have helped Katie to gain a more cohesive understanding of the politics and money behind drought management.  “Droughts can be very political,” says Katie, and she explains that in the event of water shortages, often either money has to be spent to remedy the problem, or the people affected have to make lifestyle changes.  Frequently, it is a combination of the two. 

In one key meeting with Howells, Katie learned that in the event of a water shortage, it is preferable to spend more money and pump water from the Susquehanna River Basin in order to keep the local reservoir levels high.  “I used to think that the city would likely want to save money and use more of the water from their own reservoirs before pumping water from the Susquehanna River Basin,” explains Katie,  “but spending the extra money and pumping ensures that local reservoirs aren’t depleted and that they maintain their high water quality.”   Howells explains that though less cost-effective, pumping water prevents the three reservoirs from becoming too low, which can lead to sediment build up and algal blooms.  “Katie’s research will inform us (in the event of a drought) when to start pumping,” says Howells. 

Katie Booras’ research on water management will inform resource managers in the city of Baltimore on the most effective way to respond to water shortages.  Her model has determined at what point the city should begin pumping water from the basin to ensure their reservoirs maintain high water quality.  Her work is directly useful to her primary partners in water management for Baltimore, but is also extremely important for Baltimore as a whole as residents rely on their reservoirs to provide them with clean drinking water on a daily basis.  With this research, the city of Baltimore will be able to establish a cohesive, data driven plan to manage their water supply, even in the face of potential water shortages and a changing climate.

By Sarah Muellejans, NE CSC Communications Intern, UMass Amherst

   View Project Page ==>